I admit blog posts lately have largely been quite depressing however today we have some much better news.
Yesterday was the first day of really good weather we have had and so I left the Gazelle in the garage, and took out the road bike instead I headed off in full lycra gimp suit to make the journey down to the border with Wales to see one of the country’s best new cycling facilities.
The Wirral has long been a bit of a hub for sports cycling, Phil Liggett was born at Bebington, Chris Boardman at Hoylake and Paul Sherwen just down the road at Widnes. On the road down to Chester is the Eureka Cycling Cafe, popular with the roadies on the way for a ride out in to North Wales. A typical ride into North Wales involves leaving the A540 at the Two Mills junction and Taking the Welsh Road a very heavily trafficed route with a mix of cars and HGVs. This meets the A548 and the A494 at a very large junction, this junction was reprofiled a few years ago to include some cycle facilities but it’s still not a nice place to be.
Recently though a new route has opened up that misses out an awful lot of this road and provides safe, convenient traffic free access to North Wales for cyclists and pedestrians. It is part of NCN 568 and the main part of it runs from Deeside Industrial Estate to the Harp Inn at Neston effectively cutting across marshland at the bottom of the River Dee. before passing through some residential roads in neston and linking up with the Wirral Way
From the Deeside end the entrance to the route is via the Industrial Estate, take the road down to the firing range and just before the entrance is a fork off to the right then there are a couple of barriers through which you make a zig zag, I think they are spaced far enough apart to get a tricycle through.
Lots of people were out enjoying the new route.
This first section is notable for a good reason, the tarmac, as smooth and glassy as you could wish for, the sort of tarmac that makes a road cyclist in the UK weep with joy.
This part of the route takes you up on top of an embankment that runs alongside the railway tracks, it reminded me very much of a dyke I cycled along on the approach into Nijmegen, though not half as windy. From this embankment you can view the boardwalk that makes this whole journey possible.
The Boardwalk is only a couple of hundred meters long but it links two paths separated by a marsh. It is of wooden construction and about 3 metres wide There’s plenty of space for cyclists and pedestrians to use it safely provided nobody expects to be doing 25mph across it.
Of course tarmac would have been better but that would no doubt require a steel or concrete construction that would massively increase the costs. I suppose wood is good for now while it is seen how popular it is, and it is also more gentle on the eye in these very natural surroundings.
Following the Boardwalk we meet another tarmac path there are a couple of gates to negotiate at this end, they must be close to a meter wide so a tricycle or handcycle should be able to pass through, but if a person can’t dismount they would require someone else to open it for them. This particular gate below hasn’t had the tarmaced surface built square upto and away from the gate, in fact the unsurfaced part falls away into the field below. This would be the only significant fault of the route and it is easily fixed.
A lot of sheep are free to roam in this area and they have crapped all over the path, not a problem on a nice sunny day unless you are really precious about your road bike, however in the rain it could be a bit horrible and even dangerous, however I expect the farmer has every right to have his animals there so removing them is not a solution.
There are some wonderful views to be seen, right across the river to Wales and also as you stand in the marshland I’m sure many birds and animals are visible for those with the patience to wait.
There were a great many cyclists out enjoying the sun and they were a wonderful variety too, there were the road guys returning from a day in North Wales, but there were also more elderly people getting a bit of low-impact exercise and families of all ages, children on child seats, tag alongs, tandems, and little pink bikes with stabilisers. Really fantastic to see, but even here I’d say at least 80% of people were wearing helmets, a sad indictment of the fear that has been instilled in the nation by those who want to reduce cycle usage by making it seem unsafe.
The path now continues along the front towards Neston and I saw one of my favourite sites of the day, the enterprising people at Denhall Fisheries have stuck a sign outside saying ‘Net’s Coffee Shop, Opening Soon’ absolute proof that cycling increases commercial activity and a good businessman will never miss an opportunity, I predict they will do very well. (Note to the owners, make sure you serve good quality espresso to attract the roadies)
A little further up the road for reasons I am unsure of the surface has been gravelled rather than tarmaced, at the moment it is very loose but it is also very fine, so not dangerous and I’m sure most of it will wash away, though I’m not so sure what the surface is underneath. It’s perfectly adequate to cycle on but it’s rather noisy.
At the end of the new route we arrive at the Harp Inn, a lovely little pub situated down by the river and from which you can spend many pleasant summer evenings watching the sunset. On this very warm afternoon the outside seating was full of cyclists, let’s hope the pub decides to start stocking some French lager. The pub has benefitted from the new route in another way, the last time I was down here the road/carpark in front of the pub was just a broken, rutted, untarmaced surface that made you cringe to drive over in your car, now they have some super smooth tarmac, good news for everyone.
All in all a really good effort by Sustrans, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Flintshire County Council who have come together to provide a beautiful, safe route between the Wirral and Wales, for which they must be applauded. The route is about the same length from Neston to Deeside as it would be on the main road, although it will no doubt be slower, not least because you aren’t belting along as fast as humanly possible to keep up with the HGVs doing 50mph. I can’t say if there will be much commuter traffic on it as I have only seen it on this Sunday afternoon but for anyone who has to get between mid/north Wirral and Deeside it is undoubtedly the route of choice now.